There's been plenty of confusion over the rules on compulsory vaccines for children in Italy over the past year or so.
After the previous populist government's mind-boggling series of u-turns on the issue, many parents were left unsure of the requirements for children starting school. And as a result, many children aged under six will not be joining heir classmates for the new school year.
Italian news this week is full of reports of schools refusing to admit thousands of children who haven't received their mandatory jabs before attending school, including for chickenpox, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella.
Schools in the Veneto region, for example, are refusing to admit some 7,000 unvaccinated children under the age of six, regional health authorities said yesterday. A further 2,000 have reportedly been excluded in Varese, and 3,000 in Lombardy.
So what are the rules?
The so-called Lorenzin law, making vaccinations compulsory, was first introduced in 2013.
The rules cover all children aged 0-16 who are resident in Italy.
The vaccinations are compulsory for school children who are enrolling for the first time as well as returning students.
Parents or legal guardians of both Italian and foreign residents under 16 have to follow the new guidelines or risk being fined. Children under six can also now be turned away by schools under legislation passed in 2018, intended to tackle plummeting vaccination rates.
Which vaccinations are required?
– hepatitis B
– Haemophilus influenzae Type B
– varicella (only for children born in 2017 or later)
Plus the non-compulsory but recommended vaccines:
– anti-meningococcal B*
– anti-meningococcal C*
– pneumococcal vaccines*
* The list of extra vaccines is updated by the Ministry of Health every three years. See the latest information on the Ministry of Health website.
Why all the confusion?
While some parents are so-called anti-vaxxers who object to the immunisations, many others claim they were given misleading or contradictory information by health or education professionals.
Italy is one country where long-discredited claims of a link between the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism had a significant impact on public perceptions of the safety of the jab, and rumours continue to circulate.
After coming to power in May 2018, Italy's previous populist coalition government threatened to overturn Italy's existing vaccination laws, saying that requiring schoolchildren to be vaccinated against common diseases was “coercive.”
- Italy's vaccine-sceptic M5S sacks entire board of health experts
- 'Italy's mandatory vaccine law should be adopted worldwide'
It protested against Italy's so-called Lorenzin law, under which children must receive a range of mandatory immunisations before attending school.
How do I make sure my child has the right vaccinations?
The mandatory vaccines are free. Visit the Ministry of Health's vaccine page for more information and to request an appointment online.
There is a national vaccination calendar which is linked to birth dates.
Parents who are new to the system should register with their nearest Agenzia Sanitaria Locale (ASL – local health agency) to get a login and password.
If parents can't get the required vaccinations done on time, they should request an appointment at their nearest ASL and present the subsequent paperwork to their child's school.